Cervical Cancer Prevention Comes Into Focus for Awareness Month

January is cervical cancer awareness month. This first article in a series highlights educational efforts on disease prevention through vaccination and empowering programs such as the Quilt Project.

The US Congress has officially selected January as Cervical Health Awareness Month.1 This is a disease that afflicts more than 14,000 women in this country every year.1 However, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, this disease is preventable through human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination and appropriate screening, including Papanicolaou tests.

This is the first part of a weekly series on cervical cancer this month. As part of week 1, we will look at an overview of this still prevalent disease.

RNs and social workers in oncology see patients with cervical cancer both on an outpatient and inpatient basis. For RNs, the first point of contact with patients are often at a Papanicolaou test screening in the gynecologist office. Social workers may meet patients in an outpatient chemotherapy setting, or an inpatient unit after surgery—such as a hysterectomy. Social workers may arrange home health care and supportive counseling.

Facts and Figures

In 2022, there were 4280 deaths caused by cervical cancer.2 The cervix attaches the uterus to the vagina. Historically, HPV is the cause for this disease. This is the impetus behind the push for young adults to be vaccinated against this preventable cancer. The FDA has given the green light to 3 HPV vaccines. They are the widely publicized Gardasil, Gardasil 9 and Cervarix vaccines. Each of these vaccines protect against HPV types 16 and 18—which are considered high-risk HPVs and cause most HPV-related cancers.3 These vaccines can therefore prevent 90% of HPV-attributable cancers.4

Papanicolaou Testsand Vaccines

The good news about cervical cancer is that Papanicolaou tests used for screening now have a highly effective weapon to combat cervical cancer before it even occurs.3 The test examines cells removed from the cervix. The beauty of this test is that if a woman follows screening recommendations, cervical cancer can be found before it becomes invasive and spread. Treatment options are more extensive at this level and in fact precancerous cell changes can also be discovered.3

One clinical study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, showed that Gardasil 9 can potentially prevent 9 out of 10 cases of this disease.3 Gardasil 9 attacks seven subtypes of cervical cancer that comprise 91 percent of this cancer. This research included 12, 514 women between the ages 15 to 45 years. Despite this finding, the general public does not have a awareness of the importance of the vaccines. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a proponent of vaccines for young children of both sexes at ages 11 to 12 years, some have criticized the medical community for under-educating parents and caregivers of young preteens about HPV and the importance of getting these vaccines. 3

The Quilt Project

The Quilt Project is a component of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition.3 Physical quilts are made by, or in memory of, patients with cervical cancer.5 They are used to commemorate the victims of this disease and also women who are battling precancerous lesions. The quilts are designed to raise public awareness to an acute level and bring this disease to a more visible arena and are often displayed in hospitals, cancer centers, clinics, and at professional and women’s health conferences across the country. This is not just a craft project. On the contrary, it is a tool to empower patients against this disease. Quilts are a visible reminder of this disease and an opportunity to include a human element in the effort to raise awareness.

Oncology nurses and social workers can unite patients and caregivers around the Quilt Project when educating the public about this disease.

References

  1. January is cervical health prevention month. National Cervical Cancer Coalition. Accessed January 3, 2023. https://bit.ly/3jSwy1s
  2. Key statistics for cervical cancer. American Cancer Society. Updated January 12, 2022. Accessed Monday 9, 2022. https://bit.ly/3CzcCqR
  3. Cervical cancer awareness month. American Association for Cancer Research. Accessed January 2, 2023. https://bit.ly/3WYcauG
  4. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination: what everyone should know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 16, 2021. Accessed January 9, 2022. https://bit.ly/3XimCN8
  5. Quilt Project. National Cervical Cancer Coalition. Accessed January 3, 2023. https://bit.ly/3IAMy2z